Quick 2018 Recap: After taking a step back in 2017, the Wolverines showcased a vastly improved product last year, with a ferocious defense led by coordinator Don Brown, and an offense that finally had a functional, capable, quarterback leading them in Shea Patterson. After dropping their season opener at Notre Dame, Michigan proceeded to go on a tear throughout the Big Ten slate, doling out statement wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State as part of their “Revenge Bus Tour.”
Unfortunately for Jim Harbaugh’s crew, the bus slipped on a banana peel upon arriving in Columbus, Ohio, and proceeded to careen off a cliff, as Ohio State dished out a 62-39 shellacking to deny Michigan their first-ever Big Ten East title and trip to the conference championship game, as well as the school’s first-ever College Football Playoff berth. The Wolverines then proceeded to get clobbered by Florida in the Peach Bowl in a brutal ending to what seemed like was going to be their breakthrough year.
Offensive Player To Watch: QB Shea Patterson - Michigan’s offense got the shot in the arm it needed when Patterson transferred from Ole Miss last offseason and was immediately granted eligibility. He would go on to throw for 2,600 yards with 22 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. With most of his favorite receiving targets returning, and with a new offensive coordinator in Josh Gattis bringing in a more wide-open system, look for Patterson to continue to thrive in his second year as a starter.
Defensive Player To Watch: S Josh Metellus - As the Wolverines’ second-highest returning tackler (47 last year) and interceptions leader (3), the senior safety will arguably be one of the leaders of a defense that is having to replace several key starters who have since departed due to graduation or early entry into the NFL draft (particularly among the defensive line). Him and senior cornerback Lavert Hill should make for a dangerous combo in the Michigan secondary.
Penn State Wins If: The defensive front can keep the ground game in check and consistently get pressure on Patterson, forcing him into committing a few costly turnovers that give PSU’s offense a shorter field to work with. Also, if we find out at some point that PSU putting up only seven points last year in Ann Arbor had Ricky Rahne circling this game on the calendar, due to countless sleepless nights.
Michigan Wins If: Patterson has plenty of time to scan the field and get the ball to his playmakers, or is even able to take matters into his own hands like he did at times last year against PSU. Also, if the defense is able to stifle the ground attack and consistently get pressure on Sean Clifford, or if Clifford is stymied by Michigan’s talented secondary.
Major Changes In 2019: Josh Gattis takes over as offensive coordinator, promising to bring the Joe Moorhead-style RPO system that will get the ball to his players in space. The former PSU wide receivers coach will be a first-time play caller this Fall, but will have no shortage of talent to work with, as Michigan returns eight starters on the offensive side of the ball, including their top two receivers from last year in Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Whether this translates into an explosive offense that allows Michigan to finally crash the playoff party (and probably net Gattis a head coaching gig in another year or two) remains to be seen.